Poland Lights the Way in Municipal Solar Energy Projects
The latest in a long run of success stories from the Wisloka River Basin Association: How it has supported its 22 municipalities to save 25% on price per unit, accelerated the transition to clean energy, and reduced pollution by aggregating demand to provide 10.500 private and public buildings with solar heat and power.
The solar story builds on 20 years of projects, totalling over EUR 100 million including 700 kilometres of sewage systems, 200 kilometres of water supply networks, and 17 wastewater treatment plants.
This is a great proof point of Mayoral commitment to collaboration, a shared resource to deliver better outcomes; and the benefits of economies of scale.
The area’s heating supply is heavily reliant on coal, meaning that heating and hot water needs to be manually warmed up, usually twice daily for normal use in winter. While this is very inconvenient for homeowners, it also has significantly negative effects on their health and the environment, releasing high levels of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
Between 2012 and 2017, the Association of Wisloka River Basin Communes managed to address this challenge, by implementing an innovative solar energy project that provided solar collectors for heating domestic water in homes of over 8.000 of its region’s families and in public buildings and provided a clean, convenient and sustainable energy supply. In addition, the Association’s bargaining power as the representative of 20 municipalities allowed significant cost reductions to be made for local government and homeowners, saving 25% per unit. Individual solar systems in the Wisloka river basin were priced at PLN 11.200 (around EUR 2.600). These would have cost considerably more, at PLN 14.900 (around EUR 3.100 ) on a smaller project.
As an idyllic region in the south of Poland, located between the city of Krakow and the Slovakian/Ukrainian borders, the Wisloka River basin environment is a national treasure. Although picturesque, the district is located in one of Europe’s poorest regions (Podkarpackie voivodeship, a province of 2 million people) where the Wisloka river basin’s 300.000 inhabitants have been faced with challenges in effectively financing their energy and heating needs. While there is access to energy from the national grid, fuel costs push many families to choose the cheapest and poorest quality coal as a heating source.
Over the past twenty years, however, the region has managed to successfully overcome a great deal of these obstacles and innovate through developing a strong governance structure. The Association of the Wisloka River Basin Communes is a pivotal actor in this accelerated development, where it brings together 20 municipalities and 2 towns in the River Basin to solve energy transition issues, improve environmental protection and promote ecological education. Between 2012 and late 2017, the Association implemented this ground-breaking solar project in the region which significantly improved the environmental, economic and liveability of the people of the basin.
The solar energy project was pioneering in Poland, being the first municipal Solar Energy Plan in the country. The project was ambitious and initially installed solar panels in 8.250 buildings in the region. The investment was PLN 94 million (EUR 22 million), co-founded by the Swiss-Polish Cooperation Program. This allowed investment from homeowners in the region to be minimal.
Without the subsidies, installing solar panels on an individual basis would have not been possible on this scale: most inhabitants would not have been able to afford such equipment. In total, the project installed solar collectors for heating domestic water in 8.250 residential homes and 125 out of its 715 public buildings (schools, kindergartens, cultural centres, sports facilities, nursing homes and a public hospital), as well as 49 photovoltaic systems on public buildings. Solar collectors are used for heating water whilst photovoltaic systems provide general electricity needs.
Given the region’s reliance on coal and another finite energy source, the majority of the River Basin’s inhabitants had rarely come into contact with renewable energy. Nevertheless, once neighbours, colleagues and friends saw the first solar panels installed on top of houses around them, word-of-mouth spread the enormous benefits of the solar energy around the region.
Thanks to the project’s scale, the co-financing rate and a comprehensive system for monitoring the environmental effects, the initiative not only contributed to the improvement of the air quality in the region but also significantly raised the resident awareness and interest in renewable energy and succeeded in engaging also those families who due to their economic situation would not have been able to switch from coal to solar energy without such significant support.
The regional character of the projects has significantly contributed to the awareness around renewables and their potential for scale. The concentration of the solar generators in 20 municipalities covering the area of 2.000 km2 inhabited by 300.000 people allowed to achieve a noticeable improvement of air quality and will facilitate monitoring the impact of the investment.
The project triggered a domino effect in funding: when it initially ended, the interest in
solar energy was still so high that in 2017, the Association of the Wisloka River Basin Communes successfully bid for additional funds from the EU-funded Regional Operational Programme to continue the project. The new project additionally includes the installation of photovoltaic systems on nearly 900 residential houses. As a result of both projects, by the end of 2018, over 10.500 households in the region will have reduced the use of coal and gas, replacing them with renewable energy.
The solar projects in the Wisloka River Basin have transformed lifestyles for many of the region’s inhabitants, as well as contributing to protecting the unique environment of the basin.
About The Association of the Wisloka River Basin Communes
For over 20 years, the Association of the Wisloka River Basin Communes, which brings together 20 municipalities and 2 towns from the Podkarpackie and Malopolskie regions in Southern Poland, has been committed to protecting the environment, believing that the development of the region and the quality of life of its inhabitants are closely linked with the state of the natural environment. The Association has implemented projects worth EUR 100 million.
The Association operates like a shared services centre, supporting local governments by coordinating investments and educational campaigns, identifying funding sources, developing projects, supervising project implementation and cooperating with donors and partners (including ministries, non-governmental organisations, embassies, etc.). This is possible due to close cooperation between 22 mayors and their trust in the team of the Association, resulting from many years of experience in implementing large investment projects, as well as smaller initiatives. So far, the projects have resulted in the construction of 700 kilometres of sewage systems, 200 kilometres of water supply networks, 17 wastewater treatment plants, the installation of solar thermal and PV systems on 10,500 residential buildings, the installation of 49 photovoltaic installations on sports facilities, schools, city offices, sewage treatment plants, and numerous projects in the field of ecological education and tourism.